22 July 2010

Walk round Sedlescombe Heath

The areas cleared last year on what we call 'Sedlescombe Heath' are showing signs of benefit from the extensive conservation work.

In places dwarf gorse and heather seedlings are growing well and there are now two sites for dodder (Cuscuta epithymum) which we thought we might have lost.

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The strange thing is that this parasitic plant, when in flower, looks much like heather (Calluna vulgaris), its host in Brede High Woods, but it comes out a few weeks before the heather so can be easily spotted.

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Before flowering it looks very different (see above) as a mass of tangled, red threads with no chlorophyll.

Dodder is a declining species that was formerly much more abundant on the unimproved heathlands in Sussex and elsewhere.

Another plant that is taking advantage of the new clearances is heath groundsel (Senecio sylvaticus) which seems almost confined, though in considerable quantity, in the area just south of the orchard where the Norway spruce was cleared. 

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I have a feeling the wind blown seeds must have been caught by the pine branches and have lain dormant until there was sufficient light to trigger their germination.  The plants seem to be very ephemeral and I suspect they will decline and disappear in this area within a year or two as other species develop.

Butterflies are also benefiting from the wider rides and longer woodland edges.  The only one I photographed was this very worn female ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus), a species that is actually expanding its British range.

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Also on the wing were meadow browns, gatekeepers, small coppers, red admirals, large and small whites, large and small skippers and several silver-washed fritillaries, a splendid butterfly that seems to be having a good year.

There was also a red and black burnet moth zooming across Holman Wood Field.  Probably a six-spot and good to see as this seems to be another attractive species that has declined massively in our area over the last few years.

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